Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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May Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

One of the main reasons I became interested in growing California native plants was that I recognized my own brown thumb, and also recognized the fact that I would have no patience with the arduous task of watering plants regularly all summer long, which is what most non-native plants require to be able to grow here. As I learned more about California native plants, however, I began to question whether they were really any easier to grow. Most California native plants sold in nurseries are native to the foothills, where they've evolved to adapt to steeply sloped, sandy soils with perfect drainage. I live in the Sacramento Valley, with heavy clay soils that are absolutely flat and have no drainage whatsoever. There are plants native to the valley as well, of course, but a huge percentage of them are annuals, evolved to reproduce quickly and die off within a year or less, because that's the easiest way for plants to adapt to being both completely flooded in the winter and bone-dry in the summer. Gardens full of plants that all die off every year don't tend to look very good at the time of year when the plants die.

Now, however, I have resumed believing that even though plants from the California foothills aren't as well adapted to growing in the valley as I would like, they're still quite a bit easier to grow here than plants from outside of California. This is because although I've certainly had my share of native plants die in my garden, I've now made a significant effort at growing plants from the Mediterranean Basin for the first time. And it didn't go well.

Last month, as I explained shortly before last month's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I planted six Mediterranean plants from four-inch pots: 'Provence' lavender, 'Hopley's' oregano, 'Spice Island' rosemary, Caraway thyme, 'Minus' thyme, and 'Walker's Low' catmint.This month, four of the six are dead. The only surviving intentionally planted non-California native plants in my garden now are Caraway thyme and Walker's Low catmint. I'm not really sure whether the Caraway thyme is happy either, but I suppose the good news is that at least the catmint is actively growing. It's even produced one small cluster of tiny bluish purple flowers.

Aside from the deaths of most of my Mediterranean plants, however, the month of May has mostly lived up to the promotional hype it receives from May Dreams Gardens. Most of my plants, whether or not they're blooming, have grown very noticeably in the past month. My California golden poppies, which last month were only intermittently producing a single flower at a time, are now three times their previous size and covered with many dozens of simultaneous flowers (as shown in the background below). My 'Blue Springs' beardtongue, which last month had produced only two flowers, is now covered with flowers and beginning to produce seeds as well. It's really impressing me. I need to collect the seeds and try to grow a lot more of it.

My blue flax is also still blooming away. Some days I see it without any flowers on it and I assume that its blooming season has ended, but every time this has happened, the following day it's redecorated itself with numerous flowers again.

Continuing with the blue/purple theme, one of my two silver bush lupines has produced a flower spike. I planted one of them about a month before the other - both of them this past winter - and the one I planted first has at least quintupled in size but produced no flowers, while this one hasn't yet doubled in size but has produced what you see here. I guess the first one invested so much energy into growing bigger that it had none left for making flowers, while this one invested so much energy into producing its first little flower spike that it had little left for growing bigger.

I took most of my photographs for this post yesterday, but rechecked the yard today, just on the off-chance that a new flower might show up. And one did! Last October, I scattered seeds of native blue-eyed grass, but I didn't think that any of the seeds ever actually sprouted. It turns out that at least one of them did - I just didn't recognize it until it produced this flower. (The other plant it's entangled with is a very small California golden poppy that seems not to be doing so well.)

Several other plants have buds that are right on the brink of turning into flowers. My hummingbird sage (positioned between the two rocks, below) started producing new leaves last week, and this week it sent up a flower spike with three tiers of bracts at the top. No actual flowers in the bracts yet, but I'm sure the plant's working on that.

My two native bulbs (superb Mariposa lily and soap lily) and my narrowleaf milkweed have all produced buds. The milkweed is supposed to attract monarch butterflies, but I've yet to see a single butterfly of any kind in the entire yard. I did see a ladybug on the milkweed (and also ladybug pupae on the silver bush lupine and the golden currant), so at least the milkweed is making some contribution to the local wildlife. (But the plant receiving the most attention from insects is the 'Blue Springs' beardtongue. It's permanently covered with bees, flies, ants, and some sort of shiny metallic green beetles.)

The coral bells and the red bush monkeyflower are also still blooming, although the coral bells flowers have aged from white to pink, and more than half of the red bush monkeyflower's flowers have shriveled. I'm not sure what's up with the red bush monkeyflower; I had the impression it was supposed to continue blooming well into late summer, but it appears as if its bloom season is starting to wind down. It might be getting too much sun for its tastes, but if it is, I'm not sure there's anywhere shadier in the yard that I could move it to.

My 'Golden Alexandria' wood strawberry and Susan's purple alyssum are also still blooming, as usual. (The strawberry is fruiting, too.) So I count a total of eleven plants with full-fledged flowers on them right now, plus three with buds.

Here is how the prettiest part of the garden looks right now.

Boston helped prettify it by adding her own beauty to it. Don't be fooled by the angelic look on her face, though; she dug up one of my plants a minute or two before this was taken. (I hadn't yet discovered her crime when I took the picture. It was a coral bells plant that I'd already moved because she kept stepping on it and damaging it in its previous location. I replanted it again, but I don't know whether it will recover.)

The California golden poppies seem to be sorting themselves according to the amount of sunlight they get. The ones in full sun (which is most of them) are all solid orange, while the ones in part shade are all orange in the center but yellow around the edge. The foliage looks the same on both. My seeds came from a variety of sources, including storebought solid orange seeds and some seeds that my father collected in his garden, which contains a mixture of solid orange (from his own storebought seeds) and these two-colored ones (which are native where he lives). I've seen both kinds growing wild around here, and I think both kinds are actually native here.

Here's the less pretty side of the yard. I scattered plenty of California golden poppy seeds here too, and got a few seedlings, but they're all still tiny and not blooming. Most of this side of the yard was flooded all winter, so I think that's what stopped the poppies from growing. Bermuda grass is now taking over this portion of the yard. It was here last summer too, but it vanished almost completely during the winter.

To conclude this post, I have two plants that haven't bloomed at all but that are nonetheless completely amazing me. First, here's Fort Miller fairyfan (a.k.a. farewell-to-spring). It's an annual wildflower, so I assumed when I scattered the seeds last November that it would be an itty-bitty thing, maybe six to twelve inches tall. Only one seedling survived the winter, but it's up to the height of my shoulder! It's the tallest plant I've planted, significantly taller than my redbud tree. And a month from now, it might be ready to bloom.

Finally, here's the pink-flowering currant I bought last month and promptly accidentally stepped on, snapping off its trunk at ground level. It's now resprouted lushly from its roots and is recovering nicely. (And I put a rock next to it to help remind me not to walk there.)

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